A few weeks ago, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu flew into Uyo to meet with Gov. Udom Emmanuel and seek his support for his aspiration to be the next President of the Senate. Kalu knows that the relationship between Gov. Emmanuel and Senator Godswill Akpabio, another major contender for the senate top position, is quite frosty and so, he asked the governor to get the two PDP senators in the state to support him.
I understand that Gov. Emmanuel was noncommittal in his discussions with Mr. Kalu perhaps because, in the first instance, the governor would be out of office by the time the senators elect their leaders on June 9, and so he may not have much influence on the senators from the state.
It is not clear if Kalu had met with the governor-elect, Mr. Umo Eno. With the President-elect back in the country, the leadership of APC will take a final decision on which zones will produce the Senate President and other principal officers of the National Assembly.
Meantime, I am reliably informed that Senators, politicians, religious and traditional rulers from Northern Nigeria are lobbying hard to have the position of Senate President zoned to the North West region. If that happens, it means that the top positions would be occupied by Muslims.
However, there are expectations that based on the need for inclusivity, the top senate position should go to either the South East or the South-South region and there are many compelling arguments for either. Akpabio and Kalu are the top contenders from their respective zones and both men are pulling all the stops to win. Even before Kalu visited Uyo, Akpabio’s team had already spoken to the two PDP senators from Akwa Ibom to seek their support.
Akpabio is banking on the fact that Akwa Ibom people from across the political divide are also rooting for him. ‘’I have nothing personal against him; he is from Akwa Ibom State and I will always support an Akwa Ibom person who is aspiring for any national assignment’’, said Senator Ita Enang, who had contested for the APC governorship ticket in 2022, but was not supported by Akpabio.
One of the two PDP senators-elect from the state, Dr. Ekong Sampson, declined to state categorically if he would vote for Akpabio on June 9 when I spoke to him recently. ‘’I think it is too early for me to declare my stand publicly at this moment for strategic reasons’’, he said, adding, ‘’but as you do know, Akpabio is my good friend, and my relationship with him goes far back to pre-1999. Ekong however advises Akpabio to reach out to all the 108 senators as the ‘’race is very intense and competitive’’.
Another influential politician from Akwa Ibom State, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, is also in support of Akpabio’s bid. A member of the House of Representatives, Luke was probably the first major PDP chieftain to publicly declare support for Akapbio soon after the election. In an interview with Thisday newspaper, Luke said that the former Akwa Ibom governor has the requisite qualities need for the job.
But where does Gov. Udom Emmanuel Stand? Is he in support of Akpabio who is his predecessor in office and contributed immensely in making him governor, or is the governor rooting for Senator Kalu who does not even enjoy home support? A few months ago, Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, the sociocultural organization of South East people, had asked Senator Kalu to drop out of the race because he is not fit for the job.
‘’Igbos cannot present somebody with an EFCC case; Igbos can’t present somebody as Senate President with EFCC case that could be disgraced tomorrow; Igbos can’t present someone facing trial with EFCC’’, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, the Secretary General of the organization said in response to Kalu’s aspiration. I recall that Senator Kalu’s conviction by the Federal High Court, Abuja, was eventually quashed by the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja. I do not know which other EFCC case Chief Isiguzoro was referring to.
Senator Akpabio towers above other contenders in many respects. He commands immense influence among his colleagues, has a national appeal, understands the workings of the legislature and is fiercely loyal to the President-elect and the country.
I recall that it was the stepping down of Akapbio for Tinubu in the APC Presidential Primary at Eagles Square, Abuja, last year, that set the stage for the withdrawal of other aspirants from the race, thus facilitating Tinubu’s victory. Given Akpabio’s deep experience in governance and politics, I trust that he will also give President Tinubu the required support and help to stabilize the polity if he is elected Senate president.
Unlike Kalu, Akpabio has never been arrested or imprisoned. He served Akwa Ibom people creditably well as their governor between 2007 and 2015. He was elected Senator in 2015, soon after he left office as governor, and was unanimously elected Senate Minority Leader as soon as he got into the Senate, despite the fact that he was a junior Senator. Such principal positions are usually reserved for ranking senators, but because of the confidence his colleagues had in him, the requirement was waived for him.
Akpabio is also an asset to the APC. He worked with other APC leaders to secure 27% of the votes cast in the last Presidential election in his home state of Akwa Ibom for Tinubu. In Abia State, where Senator Kalu is from, Tinubu performed very poorly. Nevertheless, I urge the President-elect, the APC as a whole and all the other 108 senators of the 10th Senate to support the emergence of Senator Akpabio as the next Senate President.